Separation process

Last updated

A separation process is a method that converts a mixture or solution of chemical substances into two or more distinct product mixtures. [1] At least one of results of the separation is enriched in one or more of the source mixture's constituents. In some cases, a separation may fully divide the mixture into pure constituents. Separations exploit differences in chemical properties or physical properties (such as size, shape, mass, density, or chemical affinity) between the constituents of a mixture.


Processes are often classified according to the particular differences they use to achieve separation. If no single difference can be used to accomplish the desired separation, multiple operations can often be combined to achieve the desired end.

With a few exceptions, elements or compounds exist in nature in an impure state. Often these raw materials must go through a separation before they can be put to productive use, making separation techniques essential for the modern industrial economy.

The purpose of separation may be analytical, can be used as a lie component in the original mixture without any attempt to save the fractions, or maybe preparative, i.e. to "prepare" fractions or samples of the components that can be saved. The separation can be done on a small scale, effectively a laboratory scale for analytical or preparative purposes, or on a large scale, effectively an industrial scale for preparative purposes, or on some intermediate scale.

Complete and incomplete separation

In some cases, separations require total purification, as in the electrolysis refining of bauxite ore for aluminum metal, but a good example of an incomplete separation technique is oil refining. Crude oil occurs naturally as a mixture of various hydrocarbons and impurities. The refining process splits this mixture into other, more valuable mixtures such as natural gas, gasoline and chemical feedstocks, none of which are pure substances, but each of which must be separated from the raw crude. In both of these cases, a series of separations is necessary to obtain the desired end products. In the case of oil refining, crude is subjected to a long series of individual distillation steps, each of which produces a different product or intermediate.

Separating liquids

Separators are used to divide liquids. Vertically supported centrifuges are built with flying bearings. A separator is a continuous sedimentation centrifuge. Both exit streams are continuously discharged, using a pump (under pressure) or pressure-free. The solid material can be discharged discontinuously (chamber drum, solid-walled disc drum), pseudo continuously (self-cleaning disc drum) or continuously (nozzle drum). The drum is the centerpiece of the separator, in which the separation process takes place. There are two types of drums: the chamber drum (known as chamber separators) and the disc drum (known as disc separators). The power transmission on the spindle and thereby on the drum can take place by using one of the three drive motors: helical gears, a belt drive or direct drive, via a special motor. The sealing of the separators is differentiated into four types: open, semi-closed, hydro-hermetic (sealing of the product space) or fully hermetic (absolute airtight).

List of separation techniques


Chromatography separates dissolved substances by different interaction with (i.e., travel through) a material.


Electrophoresis, separates organic molecules based on their different interaction with a gel under an electric potential (i.e., different travel)



See also

Related Research Articles

Chromatography is a laboratory technique for the separation of a mixture. The mixture is dissolved in a fluid called the mobile phase, which carries it through a structure holding another material called the stationary phase. The various constituents of the mixture travel at different speeds, causing them to separate. The separation is based on differential partitioning between the mobile and stationary phases. Subtle differences in a compound's partition coefficient result in differential retention on the stationary phase and thus affect the separation.

Distillation Method of separating mixtures

Distillation is the process of separating the components or substances from a liquid mixture by using selective boiling and condensation. Distillation may result in essentially complete separation, or it may be a partial separation that increases the concentration of selected components in the mixture. In either case, the process exploits differences in the relative volatility of the mixture's components. In industrial chemistry, distillation is a unit operation of practically universal importance, but it is a physical separation process, not a chemical reaction.

Filtration Process that separates solids from fluids

Filtration is a physical, biological or chemical operation that separates solid matter and fluid from a mixture with a filter medium that has a complex structure through which only the fluid can pass. Solid particles that cannot pass through the filter medium are described as oversize and the fluid that passes through is called the filtrate. Oversize particles may form a filter cake on top of the filter and may also block the filter lattice, preventing the fluid phase from crossing the filter, known as blinding. The size of the largest particles that can successfully pass through a filter is called the effective pore size of that filter. The separation of solid and fluid is imperfect; solids will be contaminated with some fluid and filtrate will contain fine particles. Filtration occurs both in nature and in engineered systems; there are biological, geological, and industrial forms.

Centrifuge device for rotating containers about a fixed axis and separating materials in said containers by mass inertia

A centrifuge is a piece of equipment that puts an object in rotation around a fixed axis, applying a force perpendicular to the axis of spin (outward) that can be very strong. The centrifuge works using the sedimentation principle, where the centrifugal acceleration causes denser substances and particles to move outward in the radial direction. At the same time, objects that are less dense are displaced and move to the center. In a laboratory centrifuge that uses sample tubes, the radial acceleration causes denser particles to settle to the bottom of the tube, while low-density substances rise to the top.


A hydrocyclone is a device to classify, separate or sort particles in a liquid suspension based on the ratio of their centripetal force to fluid resistance. This ratio is high for dense and coarse particles, and low for light and fine particles. Hydrocyclones also find application in the separation of liquids of different densities.

Cyclonic separation a method of removing particulates from a fluid stream through vortex speration

Cyclonic separation is a method of removing particulates from an air, gas or liquid stream, without the use of filters, through vortex separation. When removing particulate matter from liquid, a hydrocyclone is used; while from gas, a gas cyclone is used. Rotational effects and gravity are used to separate mixtures of solids and fluids. The method can also be used to separate fine droplets of liquid from a gaseous stream.

Fractionation chemical separation process

Fractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture is divided during a phase transition, into a number of smaller quantities (fractions) in which the composition varies according to a gradient. Fractions are collected based on differences in a specific property of the individual components. A common trait in fractionations is the need to find an optimum between the amount of fractions collected and the desired purity in each fraction. Fractionation makes it possible to isolate more than two components in a mixture in a single run. This property sets it apart from other separation techniques.

Industrial wastewater treatment describes the processes used for treating wastewater that is produced by industries as an undesirable by-product. After treatment, the treated industrial wastewater may be reused or released to a sanitary sewer or to a surface water in the environment.

Olive oil extraction

Olive oil extraction is the process of extracting the oil present in olive drupes, known as olive oil. Olive oil is produced in the mesocarp cells, and stored in a particular type of vacuole called a lipo vacuole, i.e., every cell contains a tiny olive oil droplet. Olive oil extraction is the process of separating the oil from the other fruit contents. It is possible to attain this separation by physical means alone, i.e., oil and water do not mix, so they are relatively easy to separate. This contrasts with other oils that are extracted with chemical solvents, generally hexane. The first operation when extracting olive oil is washing the olives, to reduce the presence of contaminants, especially soil which can create a particular flavor effect called "soil taste".

In manufacturing, the simulated moving bed (SMB) process is a highly engineered process for implementing chromatographic separation. It is used to separate one chemical compound or one class of chemical compounds from one or more other chemical compounds to provide significant quantities of the purified or enriched material at a lower cost than could be obtained using simple (batch) chromatography. It cannot provide any separation or purification that cannot be done by a simple column purification. The process is rather complicated. The single advantage which it brings to a chromatographic purification is that it allows the production of large quantities of highly purified material at a dramatically reduced cost. The cost reductions come about as a result of: the use of a smaller amount of chromatographic separation media stationary phase, a continuous and high rate of production, and decreased solvent and energy requirements. This improved economic performance is brought about by a valve-and-column arrangement that is used to lengthen the stationary phase indefinitely and allow very high solute loadings to the process.

An API oil–water separator is a device designed to separate gross amounts of oil and suspended solids from the wastewater effluents of oil refineries, petrochemical plants, chemical plants, natural gas processing plants and other industrial oily water sources. The name is derived from the fact that such separators are designed according to standards published by the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Vapor–liquid separator A device used in several industrial applications to separate a vapor–liquid mixture.

A vapor–liquid separator is a device used in several industrial applications to separate a vapor–liquid mixture.

Countercurrent chromatography

Countercurrent chromatography is a form of liquid–liquid chromatography that uses a liquid stationary phase that is held in place by centrifugal force and is used to separate, identify, and quantify the chemical components of a mixture. In its broadest sense, countercurrent chromatography encompasses a collection of related liquid chromatography techniques that employ two immiscible liquid phases without a solid support. The two liquid phases come in contact with each other as at least one phase is pumped through a column, a hollow tube or a series of chambers connected with channels, which contains both phases. The resulting dynamic mixing and settling action allows the components to be separated by their respective solubilities in the two phases. A wide variety of two-phase solvent systems consisting of at least two immiscible liquids may be employed to provide the proper selectivity for the desired separation.

Peeler centrifuge

The peeler centrifuge is a device that performs by rotating filtration basket in an axis. A centrifuge follows on the principle of centrifugal force to separate solids from liquids by density difference. High rotation speed provides high centrifugal force that allows the suspended solid in feed to settle on the inner surface of basket. There are three kinds of centrifuge, horizontal, vertical peeler centrifuge and siphon peeler centrifuge. These classes of instrument apply to various areas such as fertilisers, pharmaceutical, plastics and food including artificial sweetener and modified starch.

A centrifuge is a device that employs a high rotational speed to separate components of different densities. This becomes relevant in the majority of industrial jobs where solids, liquids and gases are merged into a single mixture and the separation of these different phases is necessary. A decanter centrifuge separates continuously solid materials from liquids in the slurry, and therefore plays an important role in the wastewater treatment, chemical, oil, and food processing industries. There are several factors that affect the performance of a decanter centrifuge, and some design heuristics are to be followed which are dependent upon given applications.

A conical plate centrifuge is a type of centrifuge that has a series of conical discs which provides a parallel configuration of centrifugation spaces.

Industrial separation processes are technical procedures which are used in industry to separate a product from impurities or other products. The original mixture may either be a natural resource or the product of a chemical reaction.

An oil water separator (OWS) is a piece of equipment used to separate oil and water mixtures into their separate components. There are many different types of oil-water separator. Each has different oil separation capability and are used in different industries. Oil water separators are designed and selected after consideration of oil separation performance parameters and life cycle cost considerations. "Oil" can be taken to mean mineral, vegetable and animal oils, and the many different hydrocarbons.

Centrifugal partition chromatography is a special chromatographic technique where both stationary and mobile phase are liquid, and the stationary phase is immobilized by a strong centrifugal force. Centrifugal partition chromatography consists of a series-connected network of extraction cells, which operates as elemental extractors, and the efficiency is guaranteed by the cascade.


  1. Wilson, Ian D.; Adlard, Edward R.; Cooke, Michael; et al., eds. (2000). Encyclopedia of separation science. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN   978-0-12-226770-3.

Further reading